Since returning to Chicago last July, I’ve remained impressed by the hunger I witnessed in these young Egyptian bloggers and reporters to learn the hard work of journalism. They, and their counterparts around the Arab world, are not perfect. Their passions and sense of injustice may be so strong that they cannot stop themselves from sometimes crossing the line from witness to advocate. But their fervent belief in truth-telling and fact-based reporting is encouraging, and it propels them, sometimes like moths to a flame. As I follow developments in Egypt, I am heartened—but more than a little worried—by the work my friends and colleagues there are producing.
Wael’s Internet fame (and infamy) grew, for instance, after he posted videos of people being tortured by police. One, showing a bus driver being sodomized by officers, led to a three-year prison term for the officers. Yet, while other bloggers have been beaten or jailed, Wael thus far has faced only nasty rumors meant to discredit him.
Elsewhere, the bloggers and other independent media outlets have covered the on-again, off-again wave of labor strikes that have wracked Egypt since 2006 with a fearlessness and tenacity that put the establishment media’s thin and cautious coverage to shame. The unrest, which is now the longest and largest social upheaval in Egypt since World War II, and has pulled in everyone from factory workers to government employees, is driven by widespread layoffs, shrinking wages, and rising inflation—especially in the cost of food—at a time when wealthy Egyptians seem to be flourishing. The government crackdown on the weak political opposition and labor-union activists only fueled the strikes. Police reportedly seized a number of bloggers in April during demonstrations, and the government newspapers have been drumming up anger toward the bloggers, blaming the unrest on them.
From its first issue in July 2007, El Badeel’s investigations into the labor unrest have established it as a serious player in the Egyptian media market. It broke the story of how police had chained injured citizens arrested at a riot to their hospital beds. One day, its first three pages were given over to pictures of ordinary Egyptians caught up in the disputes, a visual landmark for Egyptian newspapers.
In May, a reporter in Cairo e-mailed me, asking for guidance on how to cover the strikes. And, after a short intermission, Sandmonkey is blogging again.